Some Alberta women turning to cannabis to deal with menopause symptoms

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Cannabis’ effectiveness in treating menopause symptoms unproven – Dec 26, 2023

A new study from researchers at the University of Alberta shows that women are turning to cannabis to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Daniela Bhatt says she could not sleep at night and was struggling with anxiety and irritability.

“I went to my family doctor and was prescribed sleeping pills and was also prescribed a few antidepressants, which I feel most women in my situation are prescribed those things,” Bhatt says.

It wasn’t until the 42-year-old Edmonton woman tried using cannabis for her perimenopausal symptoms that she says she truly felt relief.

“There is still a stigma with cannabis and women my age using cannabis for symptoms,” says Bhatt, who has been going to The Cannabis Nurses in Edmonton for a little over a year. “We need to break down those barriers and those walls because cannabis is such a tool that I think most women aren’t aware of how amazing it can be.

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“In my mind, I thought, ‘Well, I’ve tried pretty much everything else, so let’s give this a whirl.’

“I feel like I’ve finally got my life back and I just want to say that nothing is perfect. With cannabis, it also took some work on self-help in regards to doing yoga and meditation, but I think cannabis kind of pushed me into seeing more of a holistic approach to my symptoms rather than just going the medical route all the time.”

Bhatt and many other women are using cannabis to manage their menopause symptoms.

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According to the study, a third of the 1,761 women surveyed said they are currently using cannabis. Of current users, 75 per cent indicated using cannabis for medical purposes to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and relieve muscle and joint aches —  symptoms that overlap with menopause.

“Women can expect to spend a third of their lives in menopause, so if they are suffering from symptoms, then we need to talk about it,” says Katherine Babyn, a second-year medical student at the University of Alberta and a co-author of the study.

“They weren’t able to access good information or support for their menopause symptoms, so they were looking for their solutions — and that’s why a lot of them were doing it on their own without a medical prescription and not even understanding or being aware of all the different options for menopause treatment,” says study co-author Nese Yuksel, a professor of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Alberta.

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Yuksel, who is also the president of the Canadian Menopause Society, said working with a health-care provider when it comes to using cannabis is a good idea.

“When you think of cannabis, there’s different components in it,” Yuksel says. “It’s not just one compound that’s always the same when you take it.

“There are THC and CBD amounts, and how they work in the body can be very different in one person versus another.”

She says she is not advocating for cannabis for menopause symptoms but believes more research is needed.

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“We did a systematic review, looking at cannabis for menopause symptoms, and they found very little evidence and the problem is the lack of studies, specifically in this population,” Yuksel says.

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At The Cannabis Nurses in Edmonton, registered nurse Kala Sanmartin helps menopausal women find the right products and doses.

“Often they say, ‘I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know what’s going on with me. I don’t feel like myself anymore. I’m extremely anxious. I’m not sleeping at night,'” Sanmartin says.

“We give them a safe space to start to address the stigma and really to hold space for them as they’re in this vulnerable time in their lives.”

Other options for menopause in Canada include hormone therapy, non-hormonal prescription medications, lifestyle modifications and complementary therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

“We do have a lot more evidence about hormone therapy and the safety of hormone therapy,” Yuksel says.

An information pamphlet about cannabis use in menopause, including current evidence and support, is being developed as part of the study.

For more information on menopause management, you can visit the website for the Canadian Menopause Society.

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